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Waxing and Waning

Believe it or not, there are people in town who are craven enough for political discourse as to wonder what my analysis for the race for Waxman's Congressional seat might be. With eleven days to go, it follows.

Most polls have Greuel on top by a slight margin, with Lieu a little back, and then it's a long ways back to Carr and the new age writer with the recognition, Marianne Williamson. (For what it's worth, everyone at or near the top of the top four campaigns would dispute this, but you may know my adage by now: if you want real information about a campaign, the very worst person you can talk to is someone at or near the top of it). Everything about Williamson is unconventional, and she is predictably running an unconventional campaign, appearing at speaking events that are heavier on the New Age than they are on the politics.

What nobody actually involved in the race seems to understand about Williamson's candidacy is that she is running a classic writer's campaign; a campaign that will impact the rest of her life as a writer. She is running to win: but for her a "win" is anywhere from top to third. Yes, her victory would even be third, ensuring her impact as a broker.

Norman Mailer ran for Mayor of New York City in 1969 and his candidacy caused Mayor Lindsay fits. Gore Vidal ran for Congress in a Republican district in 1960 and actually outperformed Kennedy in the district. These are the kind of things writers do when they enter politics: cause trouble. You'll note that Norman Mailer continued to sell books after 1969 and Gore after 1960, and both remained politically robust talking heads for the rest of their lives.

As Mailer was the untouchable third rail of the Lindsay race, Williamson is the untouchable third rail of this one. If you are Greuel or Lieu, do you really want to be dealing with Williamson after June 3? Do you want to be kissing up to her, listening to her yammer on the conspiracy of the pyramid on the back of the dollar with makeshift enthusiasm, the way Garcetti had to chase Kevin James (the two met six times before James endorsed Garcetti)? Will any of her devoted faithful feel the least bit enthused about voting for Greuel or Lieu?

To the degree that Williamson performs in the race after June, even if she completely resumes her role and remains Washington antagonist after the primary, she helps Lieu. She helps Lieu whether Wendy can bring Clinton into this race or not.

Yes, Williamson knows Clinton, don't forget about that. So she will talk with Wendy after the race but to the degree Wendy can engage Clinton publicly, Lieu will reap benefit from tacit Obama involvement privately.

Lieu's campaign team has just been through a race that is very similar. They will have longer, more extensive, friendlier chats with Williamson, and likely encourage her to continue to be a bomb throwing diva, overtly involved with nobody but her own life as a political commentator. Thus, to the degree Williamson stays engaged after June 3, she will only help Lieu. I can see Wendy begging Clinton to take a meeting with her, and Clinton extracting his usual king's ransom, and that forcing Obama to send covert ops help to Lieu, and that all working out for Lieu.

So Wendy's task over these next eleven days is an urgent one: it has to be to knock Lieu out of the runoff right now. Team Wendy would love it if Elan Carr suddenly started playing to Republicans. They would love it if Marianne started to spend money on direct mail. ("Right now, she's spending all her money on lighting herself," one consultant told me). They will escort either of these two candidates to the finish line. They actually fear Miller more, but he's waging a dumb campaign, and by endorsing him the Times just did what the Times does so well: slouch more deeply towards political irrelevance. I would expect his ceiling will be around 10% and he will be lucky to hit it.

By the way, if you are doing polling in this race and your modelling is at all flexible, you had better focus on the "likely voter" part of your modelling and make sure it takes a crack at analyzing the way voter turnout will impact the role of the also-rans: the folks who finish sixth or lower. There are 18 people in this race. [UPDATE: as of this posting there are 15 active candidates in the race; three have dropped out, and one of those three has endorsed Williamson]. If turnout is super-low, the also-rans could account for a quarter of the vote, up to 25%. If turnout is even vaguely reasonable, they could in aggregate go down to 5%. If I get a chance, I'll make my own model based on other poll data.

The top reason you are not seeing polling data in this race is that pollsters don't want to look foolish, and while you can say "Wendy is three-six points up on Lieu" with some degree of certainty, you don't know if that means she is up 30-27 or she is up 22-16. I suspect by election day the top vote getter will indeed hit 30% but with not one but two wildcards (a writer with a devoted following and a lone Republican) you can bet Team Lieu is looking to lock in 25% of the vote any way they can. In this odd instance, the race is being led by one candidate but the margin is being determined by the other.

This has been your inside Congressional District 33 cheat sheet. Now go buy any book of mine you like, even the fiction ones. They're way cheaper than a consultant, and they're worth at least as much as one.